When Sistah Robi rolls into town, expect the unexpected

April 2, 2012

EKK 2012

Photos on Facebook  for March 26 EKK #9; Mahalo to Tashi

Photo by Tashi

It really was not through any fault of theirs when Sistah Robi and Ku Kahakalau came to do EKK Monday in March 2006 that the electrical circuit for Island School bombed out and EKK could not happen without any electricity.There we were at 6:00 pm with hundreds of excited fans waiting in the parking lot and nowhere to go.


Panic button #1: What to do? The only place close by that could hold our group would be the cafeteria at Chiefess Middle School next door. Luckily I had Vice Principal Pohaku Nishimitsu’s cell number on my phone so I rang him and gave him our dilemma and asked him if there was any possibility to regroup at his school. “I just got home to Kapa’a but I will turn around and go back,” said our lifesaver Pohaku, so I yelled out across the parking lot, “Go across the Kaumuali’i Highway to Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School cafeteria!” and the long lines of cars slowly snaked around and around the long roads circling KCC, some following cars going in the wrong direction, but in about 15 minutes everyone was excitedly seated on the cafeteria table/benches and the Kahakalau Family Show went on, embellished by the wonderful accompaniment of Kekai Chock and Dennis Chun who unexpectedly showed up.

I started scheduling EKK 2012 back in August 2011 and by early November 2011 had Sistah Robi and Ku Kahakalau scheduled for March 26 with a high school Hawaiian choir to open. EKK 2012 started and rolled along beautifully but no word from anyone for March 26 and I needed to book flights, so I started sending persistent emails. A month before the event, Ku said she was unable to come due to urgent family matters but she could send her daughter I’inimaikalani in her place and would take care of all the arrangements so I booked their flights and printed up the song sheets. I cc’d Robi on every conversation, not knowing that RoadRunner dropped the ball for her internet, so she was completely in the dark on all these preparatory emails. Same time the high school choir could not come so that was just crossed off the list. I tried to find Kaua’i musicians to accompany Robi but everyone was tied up.

Panic button #2: The night before, I get a late night call from Robi that the song sheets received and printed three weeks ago had wrong chords so could I re-print the songs with the correct chords. “If it does not come through by email, I will meet you at the airport at 12:45 to get the song sheet.” It came through fine but Monday was a holiday so finding a copy machine was problematic. Luckily UPS store does not do holidays so I got the songs printed. I met the artists at the airport to make sure that everything was okay with them.

Panic button #3: An hour later I picked up a voice mail from Robi and called her. She said, “If you think the song sheet was last minute, I have one more thing for you.” It turns out that during her early morning KKCR interview with Linda Lester, she found out that EKK was not only a workshop but a followed by a concert.  “Concert!?!” Robi panicked. So at 2:00 pm she asked if she could locate John Cruz, is there any possibility we could fly him to Kaua’i for tonight?  “Ahhhhh . . .” Silence! (thinking thinking . . .) She was expecting me to breathe fire through the phone line and I could picture her wincing (she does that a lot). I said, “It’s kinda late but see if you can find him and let me check online if there are any flights left; but I need his birth date because can’t make reservations without birth date.”  Luckily Kaya was next to her and could supply that information, so I went online and found one seat left on one available flight leaving in two hours, so I booked his one way ticket, since I did not know when he would go back. 

Panic button #4: HAL email confirms he has the flight but no seat guarantee, so I had to call HAL office to make sure that John Cruz and his guitar would not have to stand in the aisle from Honolulu to Kaua’i. In the meantime, they located Johnny and he said he could make it and wanted the last flight out, so I booked his last flight out. Not only did John Cruz show up and put on a wonderful spontaneous show with Robi and I’inimaikalani plus Mike Young, he also jammed in Shutters after EKK until time to catch the last plane out. Oh . . . these musicians who love to perform . . .

Good thing the nurse tells me every time they take my blood pressure, “Wonderful! Your blood pressure is like that of a sixteen-year-old.” Often the drama behind the scenes is enough to fill a book, but it pumps up the juice for everyone and that is part of putting on a wonderful show.

Life as a musician…roll with the punches

The average person looks at a musician and sees a glamorous gregarious spontaneous person oozing with talent who can whip out an instrument and sing his heart out on the spot, but the stories shared by Robi and John, both so willing to be transparent about their experiences, gave new insight into the lives of musicians. They shared their experiences with so much humor that if they ever could NOT sing, at least they could join the Comedy Club.  

First thing John thanks the sound man for being here with a sound system. He said that sometimes with last minute gigs, another musician will call him to show up at a restaurant and add, “Oh, by the way, bring a sound system with you . . . and I may be hour-and-a-half late so just go ahead with the gig until I show up.”

Robi was profusely thankful that Johnny showed up; tonight he could do no wrong.  She shared a story about her Thanksgiving night gig at Chai’s Bistro when her usual partner said she could not play because she has big family dinner, so Robi is wracking her brain to see who among her musician friends has no family or is member of the “lonely hearts club” . . . “Oh!  Johnny! Johnny! He came to help a friend in need…I love Johnny! And tonight my good friend Mike Young showed up so now we have a surplus of musicians; the more the merrier.  Anybody who knows me knows that I do not like to play by myself.” 

She also dreads tuning her guitar on stage.  When she and Cyril Pahinui were opening for the Makaha Sons at Carnegie Hall, she could tell that one string was off but did not know which one. Cyril did not want to say anything but he winced every time she strummed; her imitation of Cyril’s wincing expression was hilarious.  Finally he told her, “Put your volume down, baby,” so she ended up playing “air guitar” for that performance.

When she and John were playing in Seattle, “John’s mic kept drooping and drooping because they don’t take care of their equipment like you guys, so John said, ‘Take it, Robi!’ ”  She did it and admitted that only twice in her life she sang solo.

But sing she can, as he and John harmonized beautifully on Makua. “I have only one song and that’s it. I hope you like it.”  Someone who can write a song like Makua should really be pumping out more songs, but her sister Ku Kahakalau is the poet in the family. They followed with Kaua’i Nani La and No Ke Ano Ahi Ahi about Prince Lunalilo. It’s a good thing that Robi and John play music together a lot so they can put on a show with no rehearsal….just a lot of whispering back and forth as they created their playlist on the spot.

Robi talked about the early days when they traveled so much from place to place so often they were confused what island they were on and could not tell if they were coming or going.  At a concert at the MACC in Maui, John calls out to the audience, “How we doing, Kaua’i?” John’s rebuttal, “Lemme, lemme, lemme explain. Everywhere I perform I ask, ‘What’s up, Maui?’ but since we were in Maui, I could not say that so I said, ‘What’s up, Kaua’i?’ ” Robi expressed surprised to learn he had a method to his madness.

John shared a song that will be in his new CD coming out this summer about being away too long. Robi loves John’s version of Waimanalo Blues composed by Liko Martin; it’s her Mom’s favorite song, and Waimanalo is her favorite place to swim with her dogs. Her dogs must be important as she later shared a story about Bula’ia who “kidnapped” her dog so she finally had to go and retrieve her pet.
The ‘ukulele class went on stage to play Na Pali Alo Lua composed by Ku Kahakalau in 2003; the hula gang that learned the dance from I’inimaikalani, Ku’s eldest daughter, performed the hula. Robi imitated the way that I’ini used to say her whole long Hawaiian name  — I’inimaikalani Keali’ikua’aina Kahakalau which translates to “Desirefromheaven TheChiefessoftheCountryside” — when she was little and could not pronounce the letter “k” and substituted “t” in its place. Isn’t that what they do on purpose between Tahitian and Hawaiian words?  I’inimaikalani was a linguist even as a toddler. I’inimaikalani danced to the beautiful Hi’ilawe about the famous waterfall in Waipio valley . . . most appropriate as that is her home.

Mike Young joined the artists on the stage and sang the song he wrote in the early 70’s — Nani Kauai (Beautiful is Kaua’i). Robi was supposed to record it years ago but either Hurricane Iwa or Iniki twarted their plans. Such passion in his singing brought shouts of hana hou. Mike sang his favorite Dennis Kamakahi song Koke’e while Robi spoke the translation and of course Donna Stewart could not resist the hula. Other hula songs that enticed hula dancers to the stage included Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett’s Kapalina, Dennis Kamakahi’s Wahine ‘Ilikea and Ku’u Hoa by Francis Keali’inohopono Beamer for his wife, enticing her to share a moonlit night together.

Robi introduced John’s signature song Island Style which describes life in the islands no matter where you are — mauka, makai, backyard, no matter which island. John sang another favorite Shine On and a song that will come out in his new album to be released this summer, We Should be Together.

 Pi’i Mai Ka Nalu is another well known favorite composed by sister Ku as a final exam for Hawaiian language instructor Larry Kimura’s poetry class. Song describes how everyone drops everything and heads for the ocean when the surf is up. She followed with a haunting song Mele O Kaho’olawe by Uncle Harry Mitchell that was recorded by Olomana. Mitchell told her “Baby, stick to the singing.”  So Robi sings, Ku writes the songs and I’ini, a Hawaiian language scholar, dances the hula.

When Robi and I’inimaikalani arrived at the Jasmine ballroom, they asked, “Are we late?” She was surprised “There were some really early people out there!”  Yes! That’s how it is at EKK; can you believe that some folks used to be in line outside from 3:00 pm for a 6:00 program, so we have been trying to get folks to comes just a tad later so we don’t feel so panicky ourselves. Robi said, “One anakala just looked at me and said Blue Bayou. I hope it was a request for that song as I took it as a request.”  Slow and sultry the song fit her voice perfectly.  No wonder uncle requested it.

For an evening that stood on a precarious ledge at one point, the final EKK Monday 2012 turned out to be a fun and animated workshop concert full of great singing, spontaneous hula, great audience participation and the hilarious stories you rarely hear about life as a musician.

One more final concert this Saturday!
Saturday, March 31, 7:00 pm
EKK Finale Concert with Hot! Hot! Hot! Super Stars!”
Nathan Aweau & Jeff Peterson
plus lovely solo hula dancers from Leina’ala’s halau
Kauai Beach Resort Jasmine Ballroom

PS! Bring heavy sweater or jacket with you; the ballroom temperature will make you feel like you are in Minnesota.

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